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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

How individuals make sense of their climate impacts in the capitalocene: mixed methods insights from calculating carbon footprints

Jack, Tullia; Baath, Jonas; Heinonen, Jukka Taneli; Gram-Hanssen, Kirsten


Many people want to play their part to tackle climate change, but often do not know where to start. Carbon Footprint (CF) Calculators pose potential for helping individuals situate themselves in climate impacting systems of which they are a part. However, little is currently known about whether and how individuals who complete CF calculators understand their CF in the context of climate change. This article explores how people make sense of their CFs and locate themselves in the capitalocene. It draws on theories of social practices, environmental ethics, valuation, and knowledge-use to analyse data from 500+ Danes who completed a CF calculator ( and interviews with 30 Danes who were asked to complete the CF calculator. In this article, we describe how Danes' CFs are impacted, looking at how survey respondents rate importance of mitigating climate change, importance of personal actions, and importance of public steering, as well as disposable income, living space, and family type. We also show how interviewees reflect over their consumption activities and possibilities. Those with high income nearly always had high CF but felt like they had little agency to change the system and rather justified their high-emitting practices such as flying, while those with low CF felt they had more agency in the system. The results show that high-CF individuals resist voluntary reduction of their emissions despite the presence of environmental ethics. Thus, we conclude that systemic solutions have the foremost capacity to reduce carbon emissions.


Individual agency; Carbon footprint calculators; Valuation; Capitalocene; Environmental ethics; Climate concern

Published in

Sustainability Science
2024, Volume: 19, number: 3, pages: 777–791

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

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